A summary of the move by British porcelain making from industry and commodities to craft and collectables…

The developmental progress of the British porcelain manufacturing trade at the advent of the 18th century lagged behind the advances made on the Continent, with the quality of material made in Saxony and France far outstripping contemporary efforts on this side of the channel.

Britain’s ceramicists were treading water in the metaphorical mire of soft paste porcelain well after the sought-after Chinese formula for a harder compound had been successfully replicated at the Meissen, Vincennes and Sevres manufactories on the continent. Even the French and Florentine producers who persisted with soft-paste production stole a march on their British counterparts by utilising a base material which was augmented by the addition of glass to produce a considerably finer product, and although British lead crystal production made considerable strides from the early 1700’s onwards, our porcelain-producing endeavours failed to keep pace.

However, ever at the forefront of innovative thinking – moreso as the industrial revolution gathered pace – British producers sought to break new ground and set their own standards. Having initially resolved to replicate the use of hard-paste compounds, they did so with the addition of alternative components which resulted in more advanced substrates formulated with the addition of either soapstone or china clay and giving rise to two new varieties of distinctly British porcelain, pioneered by sites in Plymouth, Bristol and New Hall at Shelton in Staffordshire. The two West Country sites did the bulk of the early developmental work, but it was New Hall who took on the leading role when the patent-rights to the nascent product became available and the Bristol factory ran in to financial difficulties, and under the auspices of Messrs Hollins, Shelton, Warburton and Daniel, the site in the Potteries began to produce significantly higher quality wares than were available from other sources, and the reputation of the region began to grow accordingly.

Already established as the hub of the English ceramics industry due to the ready availability of raw materials in the locality, The Potteries had been producing a great deal of albeit comparatively crude wares since the latter part of the 17th century. The infrastructure was therefore in place to take advantage of the great leap forward which was to follow when the “recipes” for finer bone china and hard paste porcelain were perfected, and with a ready supply of already-skilled ceramicists on hand to supply and exploit the market for this enhanced product the region was primed to take its place at the forefront of British porcelain manufacture.

As already mentioned, innovation was the watchword for any British factory-made concern in the heady years of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, whatever the sphere of endeavour may have been. The production of ceramic wares was no different and, having emulated the finer points of continental production techniques, it was inevitable that our home-grown entrepreneurs and industrialists would seek to surpass their Gallic and Saxon competitors.

True to form, this edict was embraced by those who sought to make the best of the product of our kilns and potteries, although it initially stemmed from a somewhat retrograde step. Early efforts to replicate Chinese porcelain had seen a conventional soft-paste base augmented with crushed bone ash, particularly when combined with the kaolin or china clay that was later to give the Plymouth and Bristol works their impetus. The use of bone ash was pioneered by the Bow works of Thomas Frye in East London, who took advantage of the readily-available surfeit of bone from slaughterhouses of Essex which served London’s markets and traders. Frye failed to make the best of his gilt-edged opportunity to exploit this abundance of raw material and it was left to a gentleman going by the iconic name of Josiah Spode to realise the potential of a substrate produced utilising this same resource. Spode and his son revisited and refined the formula and, by the 1790’s they were producing an exquisite product noted for its strength, whiteness and translucent quality. The inherent strength meant that the material could be used to make products that were both durable and made from increasingly thin sections, which further enhanced the translucency and made the resultant products much sought after. Spode coined the name bone china for his new fine material, and having been adopted by numerous manufactories as their standard base product, thus broadening its availability and reputation, it was to become identified more widely as English Porcelain – known and appreciated the world over as being every bit as high a quality as the Meissen and Sevres pieces which its producers had first sought to emulate.

Take a look at the following link to our website which shows several examples of English and Welsh porcelain from various sources…

British Porcelain (main page)

for more blog entires about British porcelain, check the links below:

Bow (London) Porcelain

William Billingsley’s Artistic Genius

Derby Porcelain

Welsh Porcelain (Nantgarw, Swansea etc)

Chelsea Porcelain

Lowestoft Porcelain